Scottsdale show illustrates Jewish contributions to American society - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Scottsdale show illustrates Jewish contributions to American society

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Posted: Monday, March 7, 2005 5:58 am | Updated: 9:17 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

March 7, 2005

Barbie, that fashionable, fun-loving California blonde, is Jewish. So is her ex-companion of 43 years, Ken.

After a turbulent life in the Wild West, Wyatt Earp finally found peace in a Jewish cemetery in Colma, Calif.

"Star Trek" star Leonard Nimoy based his character Spock’s Vulcan salute, "Live long and prosper," on a Jewish blessing.

There are other surprises in "First Day Stamp Covers," an exhibit that features more than 200 postal stamps illustrating Jewish contributions to American society. The exhibit will open Friday and run through April 8 at Scottsdale Civic Center Library.

Peoria resident and financial planner Lee Shedroff created the exhibit as part of "Celebrate 350: Jewish Life in America 1654-2004." This yearlong nationwide event commemorates Jewish contributions to American society dating to 1654, when a group of Jews fleeing religious persecution in Brazil landed in New Amsterdam, which became New York City.

Shedroff — a stamp collector for 55 years — organized the exhibit into distinct categories, including government, sports, the military, the arts and history. Each stamp either represents or is in some way connected to Jewish life. The text with the Wyatt Earp stamp, for example, reveals that the lawman’s wife of 50 years, Josie, was Jewish and that the couple were laid to rest side by side in a Jewish cemetery.

The exhibit "is creative and makes for an interesting visual presentation," said Michael Rubinoff, a professor of religious studies at Arizona State University and the University of Phoenix. "Some stamps have an interesting message that make you stop and think, because you take certain things for granted, such as the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. Jewish contribution to American society has been very deep and broad throughout American life."

The text with the stamp of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima points out that Joe Rosenthal, the AP photographer who immortalized the moment on film, was Jewish.

Vibrant, colorful stamps featuring pop culture icons such as Barbie and Superman will draw visitors, particularly children, to the exhibit, where they’ll learn that creators Ruth Handler, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, respectively, were Jewish. A Bugs Bunny stamp commemorates Mel Blanc, the man who gave the cartoon character his "What’s up, doc?" catchphrase.

The exhibit goes beyond the surface to reveal a poignant and lasting contribution in a vast number of fields.

A 28-year-old stamp commemorating Haym Salomon recounts how the Polish-born financier helped bankroll American troops in the Revolutionary War. When American soldiers were freezing and running out of food at Valley Forge, Salomon galvanized the Jewish community in the colonies and Europe to give financial aid.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis might seem out of place in an exhibit dedicated to Jews in America, but Shedroff recounts the significance with relish: In 1938, when Louis knocked out Nazi Germany’s best heavyweight, Max Schmeling, he was represented by Mike Jacobs, a Jewish fight promoter from New York.

"I learned a lot about Jewish history when I was doing this," said Shedroff, who spent hours on the Internet researching the stories. "Without Google, this exhibit would not exist."

He and Rubinoff agree the exhibit is far from complete. There are still boxes of stamps and pages of stories to be added that are cluttering Shedroff’s dining room.

"I imagine five years from now (the exhibit) will look very different," Rubinoff said.

"It will never end," said Shedroff, who pointed out that any group could present its history this way.

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